'We exist to prevent deaths and injuries'
A Q&A with National Safety Council President and CEO Deborah A.P. Hersman
On May 5, Deborah A.P. Hersman became president and CEO of the National Safety Council. As she begins her new role, Hersman – former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board – speaks about her passion for safety and her intent to challenge the “status quo.”
Safety+Health: How has your past experience prepared you for your new role as president and CEO of the National Safety Council?
Hersman: I began my career on Capitol Hill, working on the House side for seven years and the Senate side for five years. Congress is a great incubator, where you can learn up-close about politics, process and personalities. Crafting legislation means changing the status quo and contending with many different perspectives and agendas; success means accurately assessing the landscape and creating the best outcome for as many different stakeholders as possible. At the National Transportation Safety Board – first as a member and then as chairman – I had the opportunity to serve as the public face of a trusted organization. Through our investigations and recommendations, I saw the landscape of safety change through education and advocacy. It was an incredible mission, and I had the opportunity to work alongside a great team. I look forward to challenging the status quo through the National Safety Council – lives depend on it.
S+H: What attracted you to the job?
Hersman: The mission of saving lives by preventing deaths and injuries resonated with me on a personal level. When you do something you are passionate about, you look forward to coming to work every day. The opportunity to be a part of an organization with a great history and the potential for an even greater future attracted me on a professional level. I am so excited about what the National Safety Council can do to make our world safer.
S+H: Describe your personal journey to understanding the importance of safety.
Hersman: After years of writing safety legislation; participating in the investigations of crashes, derailments and explosions; and seeing the tragic aftermath of many preventable deaths, I came to understand that excellence is about good habits and doing the right thing day after day. Safety is an interconnected web of risk assessment – it is about the big things, but it is also about the small things and how we perform when nobody is watching. One mistake, a simple oversight or a choice that seemed insignificant can often be the difference between life and death.
S+H: How would you describe your leadership style?
Hersman: In one word: engaged. I enjoy working with a diverse team with different strengths. As the leader of the National Safety Council, I must be the embodiment of the mission, yet bring out the best in the different pieces of our organization. I have a lot of energy for working with people and for taking on new challenges, so expect high levels of interaction with our members and stakeholders.
S+H: As you take on this new responsibility, what message would you like to communicate to National Safety Council members and staff – and to the public?
Hersman: We exist to prevent deaths and injuries – it doesn’t get any more relevant than that!